Five years ago, Gmail launched with a splash big enough that many thought it was an April 1 joke: an entire gigabyte of online storage.
Larger online e-mail rivals Hotmail and Yahoo Mail quickly matched that advantage, but in the meantime, Gmail has grown to become a force to be reckoned with. It's got tens of millions of users, Google said, though it won't pin down a precise number. And its growth today, in terms of new users joining the service, is faster than it was four or five years ago, said Todd Jackson, product manager for Gmail.
In a chat Monday, Jackson offered an assessment of what Google has accomplished with Gmail thus far and what it expects in the future.
CNET News: First of all, you launched Gmail on April 1. Are you going to have an April Fools' stunt this year? Jackson: Keep your eyes peeled. I can't tell too much. I can't spoil the joke.
The 1GB in-box was pretty surprising when Gmail arrived. Do you expect anything new from Gmail that's that shocking or paradigm-shifting? Jackson: We've been working on innovating Gmail over the last five years. It's our goal to stay constantly on the leading edge of what users want--particularly the most demanding users. When we added chat to Gmail, I considered that a big milestone. Similarly when we added video chat. I thought these were really important in expanding the scope of communications that Gmail makes fun and possible and easy and fast.
Communication is more than just mail. It was a really good ground for us to start on. We want to stay on that bleeding edge. Gmail Labs is a good testing ground to be trying new things and getting stuff out there to the public fast even at the scale we're at. It becomes difficult at the scale we're at, with a large user base, to launch things at the same speed as when you were small. We want to think of ourselves as the start-up that happens to have tens of millions of users.
I think we got a lot of that big bang at the original launch because of the gigabyte of storage. That was the hook that got a lot of people interesting in checking Gmail out, but then what got a lot of them sticking with the product were things about the UI (user interface)--conversation view and search and the quality of the spam filter. All those things that don't add up to the same headline, but they're the things that really make the product great. We're going to be going for more of that.
Do you think the difference between Gmail at launch and today is going to be less or greater than the difference between Gmail today and where it's going to be in five years? Jackson: Many of the things we've been working over the past five years were under-the-hood things. Things that don't dramatically change the visual look of the product but really people expect to have in a mail product. Things like POP support, IMAP support, a mobile UI. Little things like save draft or rich-text editing. We didn't have any of that at launch. You couldn't boldface, you couldn't italicize. We've been adding these things over the years that people just expect to have.
I think over the next five years you will probably see a large amount of visible change, maybe more so than in the past five years. That's because for the first five years we had to focus on all the nuts-and-bolts things people want. We did some very innovative thing in terms of chat and video chat and expanding the number of ways to communicate in Gmail. I think you're going to see more things in that direction, and things that directly impact the way the product looks and feels. … Read more